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Hello my name is Elaine and I am the independent Chair of the Bradford District and Craven Health and Care Partnership Board. Happy International Women’s Day!

If you want to know more about International Women’s Day and this year’s theme which is #EmbraceEquity do head online and see how you can get behind this movement to create an equal and fair world for all.

The challenge given to me for this blog was to answer the question ‘who are the women who have inspired you?’

As I thought about this, I realised just how many women have shaped and inspired me – from members of my family, to the women in communities and professions who have been partners and collaborators in the work to combat poverty and improve people’s chances for a better life.

The second half of my childhood was spent in an all female household with my nan, mum and two younger sisters. I witnessed a difficult marriage to a controlling and coercive man that came to an end when I was ten. My nan came to live with us and provided a rock solid centre. Somehow my mum and nan managed to get a shared mortgage for a backstreet terrace in my home town. This was nearly a decade before women had right of access to a mortgage without a male guarantor. These were women who taught me not be thwarted by the status quo.

My mum was a part-time secretary and my nan a nursing assistant. They were my first inspirations – though not always fully appreciated as that at the time! As a volunteer, mum helped to set up the first Council for Voluntary Services in Lancaster. Although a young woman in her early thirties, her health was not good. She got involved with the local branch of the Ileostomy Association of Great Britain and went on a literal journey that took her all over the world, culminating in her becoming World President of the International Ostomy Association.

A founder member of St John’s Hospice and creator of innovative work with volunteers in local hospitals she provides many more stories of how she inspired, and continues to inspire. She was awarded the British Empire Medal (BEM) in 2012. In support was Aunty Barbara, her younger sister and my first teacher and inspiration in terms of education. She was the first in the family to go to University. She taught me to read at a very early age. I have a photo of me as a toddler sporting her Grammar School scarf, family aspirations for me clear from the youngest age.

In 1972, aged 18, I came to the University of Bradford to train as a social worker. I remained here, working with communities until 2008. This work brought me to the next set of inspirational women in my life – the women of Holme Wood and Little Horton. During the tough economic times of the 1980s and 1990s they stepped out of their homes and comfort zones to create new opportunities and support for families in their area.  There were a few men involved, but overwhelmingly it was women who stepped forward to make a difference.

They responded to an invitation to get involved in improving what was on offer to help parents to be the best they could be. They overcame their nervousness about joining in, contributing their ideas about what would support families and learning new skills to make their ideas happen. parent and toddler groups, a toy library; under-5s gym club; even a family centre. They organised trips and holidays. They partnered with local professionals and schools to create a community council. They taught me about a community’s skills, abilities, resilience, and generosity. Now it’s called asset-based community development. Then, it was people pioneering a way of working that drew on the power that resides in all communities.

Working with communities brought me into contact with my third set of inspirational women, those working in the public and voluntary sectors. From the health visitors and midwives working on Holme Wood and joining in that first community partnership to the senior women leaders in politics, council services, health, and the voluntary sector. I look around today at the leadership of all these sectors, at all levels, and the number of talented, inspirational women takes my breath away. And it is not limited to the adult generation. At a meeting of the Bradford Council’s Wellbeing Board last week, I met a new generation of young women from local schools – they may not know it yet, but they are our new inspirations.

You may be surprised that I mention no specific names. When I started to make a list, it was clear it was going to be a huge one. The inspiring women in my life surrounded and encouraged me almost every day. It was this fact the enabled me to grow and develop, to step into new areas of work over a 30 year period. We can all, and many do, inspire each other every day. Every time we encourage one another; every time we breathe life into someone’s energy or ideas when they are feeling low, we inspire. Take a look around and notice who is inspiring you day to day, and who are you inspiring in turn.

It isn’t a matter of being a hero. Bertolt Brecht, the German playwright wrote: ‘Unhappy is the land that is in need of heroes’. When we surround each other with encouragement, interest and the right sort of attention, we inspire one another and good things happen.

Elaine Appelbee (you can find me on Twitter @elaineappelbee)

Independent Chair for Bradford District and Craven Health and Care Partnership Board